Stekel, Wilhelm (1868-1940)

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STEKEL, WILHELM (1868-1940)

An Austrian physician and psychoanalyst, Wilhelm Stekel was born on March 18, 1868, at Boyan, Bukovina. He died on June 25, 1940, in London. After matriculating from a German secondary school in Czernowitz, Stekel studied medicine in Vienna. He worked in Richard von Krafft-Ebing's clinic for a while before defending his thesis in 1893.

A certain mystery surrounds the date of Stekel's first meeting with Freud, as well as that of the analysis (or analyses) that he undertook with him. In his paper "The Aetiology of Hysteria" (1896c), Freud cites Stekel's "Über Coitus im Kindesalter" (On infantile sexuality; 1895), and in another article written in 1896 but published in the following year, Stekel mentioned Freud's report on Paul Julius Möbius's book on migraine. It was probably Freud who, in 1901, recommended Stekel for a position as medical journalist at the well-known newspaper Neues Wiener Tagblatt, in whose pages, in January 1902, Stekel published a complimentary article on Freud's Interpretation of Dreams (1900a).

In October 1902, Stekel initiated setting up the Wednesday Psychological Society, which in 1908 transformed itself into the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. Judging by the minutes (Nunberg and Federn), Stekel was its most active member during the first ten years. Stekel strongly challenged Freud on such subjects as the harmfulness of masturbation and the existence of the actual neuroses. In 1910 Stekel proposed setting up Zentralblatt für Psychoanalyse, of which he was soon sole editor. A dispute about his rights in this office led to Stekel's resignation from the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society in 1912. The underlying reason, however, was almost certainly Stekel's refusal to accept Freud's ideas on the actual neuroses. After World War I, Stekel set up his own school of "active analysis" and founded the Organisation of Independent Medically Qualified Analysts. He also launched and edited a number of psychotherapeutic journals.

Stekel was a prolific writer, producing fifty books (many of them for a general readership), hundreds of newspaper articles, and numerous scientific papers. The most important part of Stekel's psychoanalytical work is contained in his ten-volume Störungen des Trieb- und Affektlebens (Disturbances of the impulses and the emotions). The first volume was Conditions of Nervous Anxiety and Their Treatment (1923). It was followed by volumes on masturbation and homosexuality, frigidity in women, impotence in men, psycho-sexual infantilism, peculiarities of behavior, fetishism, sadism and masochism, and finally two volumes on compulsion and doubt. Other academic books of his deserving special mention are Die Sprache des Traumes (The language of dreams; 1911), Die Träume der Dichter (The Dreams of Poets; 1912), The Interpretation of Dreams (1943), and Technique of Analytical Psychotherapy (1939). The most well-known of his popular books was his Primer for Mothers (1931).

Stekel was a popularizer of psychoanalytic ideas, both through his journalistic output and through his books, yet he was also an innovator in technique and theory. He devised a form of short-term therapy called active analysis, which has much in common with some modern forms of counseling and therapy. He argued strongly for the view that all neuroses are psycho-neuroses.

Francis Clark-Lowes

See also: Wiener psychoanalytische Vereinigung; Zentralblatt für Psychoanalyse .


Freud, Sigmund. (1896c). The aetiology of hysteria. SE, 3: 186-221.

Nunberg, Hermann, and Federn, Ernst. (1962-1975). Minutes of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. New York: International Universities Press.

Stekel, Wilhelm. (1895).Über coitus im kindesalter: eine hygienische studie. Wiener medizinische Blatter, 16, 247-249.

. (1911). Die sprache des traumes. Wiesbaden, Germany: J. F. Bergmann.

. (1912). Die träume der dichter. Wiesbaden, Germany: Bergmann.

. (1923). Conditions of nervous anxiety and their treatment (Rosalie Gabler, Trans.). London: K. Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co.

. (1926). Zur geschichte der analytischen Bewegung. Fortschritte der Sexualwissenschaft und Psychoanalyse, 2, 539-575.

. (1931). A primer for mothers (Frida Ilmer, Trans.). New York: Macaulay Co.

. (1939). Technique of analytical psychotherapy (Eden and Cedar Paul, Trans.). London: John Lane.

. (1943). The interpretation of dreams: New developments and technique (Eden and Cedar Paul, Trans.). New York: Liveright Publishing Corp.

. (1950). The autobiography of Wilhelm Stekel: The life story of a pioneer psychoanalyst. New York: Liveright.